Giving youngsters a literary head start

With personalized books and guest readers, the Give-A-Book program attempts to spark a love of reading in children

Education Beat


Sitting on the floor in Westminster's library among a group of children from the Head Start program, Leah Kozoidek listened to the rhymes in the book Little One, Little One, What Do You See?

She eagerly answered questions about the animals in the story and counted along with her classmates.

At the end of the reading, Leah, 4, and nearly 40 other children in Carroll County Head Start received their own copy of the book - personalized with their name on the title page and throughout the story.

The books were given to the children through the Give-A-Book program, which is designed to share the fun of reading with young children. It is the first time the program has been offered in Carroll County.

In a loud, animated voice, Creig Northrop read the book to the children gathered in a semicircle on the floor in front of him.

"You guys really have to help me. I want loud voices," Northrop told the children before they counted from one to 10 with him on one of the last pages.

With four children of his own, Northrop said he's had practice reading and knows how important it is.

The program gets kids excited about reading, said Northrop, president of the Northrop Team of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., located in Eldersburg and Clarksville.

The real estate company sponsored the event, covering the costs associated with providing the books to the children. They also sponsored the program in Howard County this year, providing books to more than 250 Head Start children there.

"I had little ones just come up and thank us," Northrop said. "They point [to things in the book], and it's kind of neat because they have the visuals plus their name."

Regina Wrobleski sat on the floor with her son Joshua, 4, while Northrop read the book.

"Joshua loves to read. He's really into that and we do it every night," said Wrobleski, of Hampstead.

Wendy Elover started the Give-A-Book program through Books About You, her Owings Mills-based company that prints the text and hand-binds the personalized books.

"The idea was to get these books to children who need books," Elover said.

Books About You typically creates books for children that include messages like "with love from Mom and Dad." The books distributed through the program feature the sponsor's name and the child's name.

"I had a personalized book when I was little, and I used to buy them for my daughters. So, I know how exciting it is to see your name in print," Elover said. "Children like to read about things that interest them, and what's more interesting to young children than reading about themselves?"

After reading to the group, Northrop handed out the individualized books to the children, helping some of them flip through the pages.

"Northrop makes the animal sounds and really gets the kids into it," Elover said.

Northrop's personalized copy was donated to the Carroll County Public Library for other children to read.

Jasmine DeFoor, 4, said that she likes reading at home and that her favorite thing about the book was that her name was in it.

After receiving his book, Calvin Casteel, 3, immediately sat down to read it with his mother, Paige, of Hampstead.

Children at all six Head Start programs in Carroll County received personalized books, with a total of about 125 distributed.

Head Start is a federally funded, Catholic Charities-run development program for children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families.

Kathi Jeffra, the lead teacher at Head Start's Carroll Child Care location, said one of the biggest things they are looking at with children that age is beginning literacy.

"Having their name in the story helps them identify more closely with the books and enjoy reading," Jeffra said.

The book, written by Alan Siewert and illustrated by Pam Jones, is more than just pages with words, Elover said.

"These books give the children a sense of pride and self-esteem that this book was made especially for them - about them," Elover said.

The program started in 2003, with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley as the first guest reader at the Emily Price Jones Head Start Center in Baltimore.

Since then, books have been distributed to children in other Head Start programs in the city, Baltimore County and Howard County.

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